If Santa had a Christmas wish, there's no doubt he'd want a snowmobile. Every kid that lives on the snow covered alps or in the frozen plains of the arctic grows up wanting one, and I suspect that occasionally a desert nomad secretly wishes he could zoom across frozen ice on one of those sleek machines; an ingenious blend of bike and sled.

The Glamorous Rise of the Snowmobile

Snowmobiles are an adaptation of military technology for civilian use. Like the ARPANET, once the technology became accessible outside of the military; innovation proceeded apace. Once clumsily built vehicles have now become the sexy, sleek snowmobiles we see today.

The development of the snowmobile was by a process of incremental improvements and experimentation, but Joseph Armand Bombardier of Quebec, Canada is acknowledged to have been one of the major historical figures in its development. Bombardier technologies, the eponymous company, is one of the leading manufacturers of snowmobiles with Artic Cat, Polaris, Honda, Yamaha and Ski-Doo other significant players in the $28 billion dollar a year market.

The modern snowmobile has Kevlar tracks in the rear and skis upfront for directional control. Most of the current models are built with 2 stroke engines, although several companies are now building 4 stroke engines as customers become more environmentally conscious.

These growing concerns about the environmental damage from snow mobiles have led responsible countries, such as Canada, to pass laws to curb pollution from the snowmobile. The major players in the market are responding to the new trends by producing environmentally friendlier vehicles.

Buying a Snowmobile - Prices to Expect

Brand new 2 stroke snowmobiles can set you back between US$6,000 to US $12,000; admittedly significantly less than a Harley, but still a major purchase for most people in this depressed recovering economy. Snowmobiles with a 4 stroke engine cost, on average, between US$12,000 and $18,000 - more than many cars!

Used snowmobiles, on the other hand, generally go from anywhere between US$2,000 to $12,000. Of course there is great variation in price, dependent on the age, manufacturer and condition of the vehicle, so it really is, like all used things, caveat emptor. Of course, the beauty of "generally" is that you can definitely find even better deals. Snowmobiles under $2000 might be a little more rare, but you can find them if you take the time to search. With the power of the internet, you can definitely expect to find a cheap used snowmobile for sale in the thousand dollar range.

The market for used snowmobiles is quite large, and if Google search results are anything to go by (with over 270,000 search results) there are many people going down this route; and presumably others wherever snow may be found. Finding a used snowmobile on sale using the internet can be a mixed bag. You can find incredible savings, but there's a tradeoff if the sled isn't in your area. Buying such an expensive machine sight-unseen has it's inherent risks, so doing your homework ahead of time can save you from major headaches down the road.

Websites to start your search include eBay, a multi-purpose marketplace where you can find just about anything, including snowmobiles. Then there's SledSwap, a website dedicated to selling Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo, Yamaha, Polaris, and other brand-name sleds.

Three Things to do before Purchasing a Used Snowmobile

1. Check how the sled has been stored.

Unless you live in perpetually frozen tundra, the opportunity for you to use your sled will likely be limited to the winter months. This means that for the rest of the year, that sled will be sitting idle.

If you are buying a used snowmobile, you need to consider where the sled has been stored during the off-months. If it has been kept out in the open, chances are that there may be damage caused to the sled from condensation or the forces of nature.

Look for a snowmobile that has been kept indoors in a controlled environment. Those that have been left at the mercy of the elements show either a lack of concern by the owner or carelessness.

2. Check for evidence of accidents

If you can – i.e. you aren't buying online – you should definitely be checking the snowmobile for signs of crashes. Snowmobiles, because of the relatively more difficult maneuverability of the vehicle and the harsher environments in which they're driven, are generally more accident prone than regular vehicles on sealed roads.

When you check to see if there is evidence of crashes, figure out the amount of damage done to the vehicle, as well as the location of the damage. Either have the seller discount the price accordingly or agree to have them get it repaired - or you can buy with the knowledge that you will have to pay for or complete the repairs yourself.

3. Check the general state of the vehicle

Check the electrical system – are the lights working? How does the crank sound when you start it?

Check the brakes – brakes are especially important in used snowmobiles because of the off-road nature of the vehicle. Make sure you are comfortable with the state of the brakes, they could save your life.

Check the skis for wear and tear, this is especially so for metal skis. Plastic skis tend to be better in this regard.

4. Bring a knowledgeable friend that can assist you to make an informed purchase if this is your first time buying a snowmobile, particularly a used one . They are likely to spot things you would miss, that may prove to be detrimental to your riding experience, and will help prevent you from getting conned by a more-knowledgeable dealer.

In the end, it's better to buy a machine in good condition than it is to save a few dollars, unless you're mechanically inclined and are capable of doing a fix-up job on your own. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities to buy cheap used snowmobiles on sale both online and offline, and you can wind up with a beautiful machine at a fraction of the cost of buying new.